The 2014 NFL draft sets up as one of the most mysterious in history. Where will collegiate stars like Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel end up? How many trades will we see in the first round? Chris Burke and Doug Farrar tackle the burning draft questions below.
Player most worth trading up for?
Chris Burke: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
I'm still operating under the assumption that Jadeveon Clowney goes No. 1 overall ... or, at the very least, is the first defender off the board. The price tag to move up for Mack then would be less prohibitive than it would be to get to the very top of the draft, where Clowney will reside. And the gap between Clowney and Mack is not all that large, particularly if Mack lands on a team that either runs a 3-4 or is creative enough to take full advantage of his abilities.
If Mack somehow slides far enough to be available at No. 5, every team from Atlanta (No. 6) on down through about Baltimore (No. 17) should be on the phone testing the waters.
Doug Farrar: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
With all the talent at the top of the hypothetical board, I'm not sure there's one player in this class worth the currency in picks it generally takes to make a serious move up -- especially for teams out of the top 10 in the draft order. We will most likely see some small-scale trades near the top as certain teams try to jostle for specific position, but that's generally a different story.
So, as we travel down the first round, I think there are several teams (Steelers, Ravens, Jets, Cardinals, Eagles) between the 15th and 22nd picks that could benefit greatly from a speed receiver like Beckham. The LSU product can burn up the seam, and he's got the kind of toughness and route awareness that generally lead to NFL success. Beckham is generally seen as a mid-first round talent, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there's a rush of teams sparring to pick him up.
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GM under the most pressure?
CB: Les Snead, St. Louis Rams
Having two picks in the top 13 should be an undisputed positive. The rub is that the pressure is on Snead to turn both picks into high-impact players, with anything less than a 2-for-2 first day shaping up as a massive disappointment. There's danger, too, in the idea of St. Louis trading down, either out of the No. 2 or No. 13 spots. Adding draft picks in general can be a smart decision, and doing so in this deep draft might be the preference for a lot of GMs. However, trading back comes with the risk that you leave an elite talent on the board to nab two lower-quality players.
The Rams clearly stand behind Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West pecking order, and Arizona blew past them for at least the 2013 season. Snead is attempting to mold this team on the fly into what Jeff Fisher wants, without enduring any sort of a rebuild. If the plan is to "win now," then this draft is crucial.
Adding even more heat: Sam Bradford's situation. Because of his unwieldy contract, Bradford could be on the chopping block, which means that St. Louis would need to find his replacement soon.
DF: Rick Smith, Houston Texans
Might as well start at the top. Yes, quarterback Matt Schaub contributed greatly to last season's 2-14 record, but the problems in Houston run deeper than that. Smith's drafts haven't been spectacular in the later rounds in recent seasons, and teams will eventually pay for those mistakes. And with new head coach Bill O'Brien expected to have a hand in personnel matters (especially the team's next quarterback), Smith needs this to be a defining draft -- for him, and for the franchise.
Fact or fiction: Two or more QBs will go in the top 15
There is mounting evidence that my stance will be wrong, but I'm holding firm on the belief that QB need will overwhelm all these other issues. Teddy Bridgewater could start an NFL game in Week 1, probably Johnny Manziel too; Blake Bortles might be one of the league's superstars within two or three years. Are all those quarterback-starved teams in the top 10 really prepared to bypass all of those guys early?
Maybe. It might even be likely at this point. I'll still vote for common sense to win out.
Throw out all the talk about Teddy Bridgewater's pro day, and Johnny Manziel's extracurricular activities. When push comes to shove, the NFL is a passing league, and there are too many teams in the top 15 (Rams, Jaguars, Browns, Raiders, Vikings and Titans) with issues at the quarterback position. If Manziel went to Cleveland with the fourth overall pick, it wouldn't be a huge surprise, and I can't see Bridgewater fading to the bottom of the first round if there are teams actually watching his tape. Add in Blake Bortles and a possible wild-card like Derek Carr, and the potential marriage of talent (as undefined as it may be) and need is too glaring.
Five years from now, who will we consider the best player from this draft?
CB: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Clowney felt like an obvious choice here, but I wanted to go against the grain a bit. Evans has all the physical tools to be a dominant NFL receiver, plus the aggressiveness to take advantage of those gifts. As to the question of why him and not Watkins: By (likely) landing lower in the draft than Watkins, Evans stands the chance of falling into a more favorable situation. Playing in Detroit comes with obvious Megatron-related benefits, but even if Evans gets to Tampa Bay or Buffalo, the surrounding talent would give him a greater opportunity to step in and roll.
Give it a year or two, and Evans will be ready for an Alshon Jeffery-style breakthrough.
DF: Auburn OT Greg Robinson So many of the players in this class are scheme-dependent to some degree, which means that they'll need to be with the right team and in the correct system for their talents to shine. But Robinson, who projects best as a physically dominant run blocker at this point in his development, has estimable talent, and is just about goof-proof. He could play left tackle right away in a power-blocking team, he has the intelligence and drive to develop into a great pass blocker over time, and if a team wanted to move him inside, Robinson -- in my opinion -- has the specific skills to be the best guard in the NFL by a fairly significant margin. No matter where you put him, Robinson will be great -- and that's why he's the easiest prospect to predict in the realm of the hypothetical.